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Hard Times by Charles Dickens*

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the lives and deaths of common men and women! They sometimes,
after fifteen hours' work, sat down to read mere fables about men
and women, more or less like themselves, and about children, more
or less like their own. They took De Foe to their bosoms, instead
of Euclid, and seemed to be on the whole more comforted by
Goldsmith than by Cocker. Mr. Gradgrind was for ever working, in
print and out of print, at this eccentric sum, and he never could
make out how it yielded this unaccountable product.

'I am sick of my life, Loo. I, hate it altogether, and I hate
everybody except you,' said the unnatural young Thomas Gradgrind in
the hair-cutting chamber at twilight.

'You don't hate Sissy, Tom?'

'I hate to be obliged to call her Jupe. And she hates me,' said
Tom, moodily.

'No, she does not, Tom, I am sure!'

'She must,' said Tom. 'She must just hate and detest the whole
set-out of us. They'll bother her head off, I think, before they
have done with her. Already she's getting as pale as wax, and as
heavy as - I am.'

Young Thomas expressed these sentiments sitting astride of a chair
before the fire, with his arms on the back, and his sulky face on
his arms. His sister sat in the darker corner by the fireside, now
looking at him, now looking at the bright sparks as they dropped
upon the hearth.

'As to me,' said Tom, tumbling his hair all manner of ways with his
sulky hands, 'I am a Donkey, that's what I am. I am as obstinate
as one, I am more stupid than one, I get as much pleasure as one,
and I should like to kick like one.'

'Not me, I hope, Tom?'

'No, Loo; I wouldn't hurt you. I made an exception of you at
first. I don't know what this - jolly old - Jaundiced Jail,' Tom
had paused to find a sufficiently complimentary and expressive name
for the parental roof, and seemed to relieve his mind for a moment
by the strong alliteration of this one, 'would be without you.'

'Indeed, Tom? Do you really and truly say so?'

'Why, of course I do. What's the use of talking about it!'
returned Tom, chafing his face on his coat-sleeve, as if to mortify
his flesh, and have it in unison with his spirit.

'Because, Tom,' said his sister, after silently watching the sparks
awhile, 'as I get older, and nearer growing up, I often sit
wondering here, and think how unfortunate it is for me that I can't
reconcile you to home better than I am able to do. I don't know
what other girls know. I can't play to you, or sing to you. I
can't talk to you so as to lighten your mind, for I never see any
amusing sights or read any amusing books that it would be a
pleasure or a relief to you to talk about, when you are tired.'

'Well, no more do I. I am as bad as you in that respect; and I am
a Mule too, which you're not. If father was determined to make me
either a Prig or a Mule, and I am not a Prig, why, it stands to
reason, I must be a Mule. And so I am,' said Tom, desperately.

'It's a great pity,' said Louisa, after another pause, and speaking
thoughtfully out of her dark corner: 'it's a great pity, Tom.
It's very unfortunate for both of us.'

'Oh! You,' said Tom; 'you are a girl, Loo, and a girl comes out of
it better than a boy does. I don't miss anything in you. You are
the only pleasure I have - you can brighten even this place - and
you can always lead me as you like.'

'You are a dear brother, Tom; and while you think I can do such
things, I don't so much mind knowing better. Though I do know
better, Tom, and am very sorry for it.' She came and kissed him,
and went back into her corner again.

'I wish I could collect all the Facts we hear so much about,' said
Tom, spitefully setting his teeth, 'and all the Figures, and all
the people who found them out: and I wish I could put a thousand
barrels of gunpowder under them, and blow them all up together!
However, when I go to live with old Bounderby, I'll have my
revenge.'

'Your revenge, Tom?'

'I mean, I'll enjoy myself a little, and go about and see
something, and hear something. I'll recompense myself for the way
in which I have been brought up.'

'But don't disappoint yourself beforehand, Tom. Mr. Bounderby
thinks as father thinks, and is a great deal rougher, and not half
so kind.'

'Oh!' said Tom, laughing; 'I don't mind that. I shall very well
know how to manage and smooth old Bounderby!'

Their shadows were defined upon the wall, but those of the high
presses in the room were all blended together on the wall and on
the ceiling, as if the brother and sister were overhung by a dark
cavern. Or, a fanciful imagination - if such treason could have
been there - might have made it out to be the shadow of their
subject, and of its lowering association with their future.

'What is your great mode of smoothing and managing, Tom? Is it a
secret?'

'Oh!' said Tom, 'if it is a secret, it's not far off. It's you.
You are his little pet, you are his favourite; he'll do anything
for you. When he says to me what I don't like, I shall say to him,
"My sister Loo will be hurt and disappointed, Mr. Bounderby. She
always used to tell me she was sure you would be easier with me
than this." That'll bring him about, or nothing will.'

After waiting for some answering remark, and getting none, Tom
wearily relapsed into the present time, and twined himself yawning
round and about the rails of his chair, and rumpled his head more
and more, until he suddenly looked up, and asked:

'Have you gone to sleep, Loo?'

'No, Tom. I am looking at the fire.'

'You seem to find more to look at in it than ever I could find,'
said Tom. 'Another of the advantages, I suppose, of being a girl.'

'Tom,' enquired his sister, slowly, and in a curious tone, as if
she were reading what she asked in the fire, and it was not quite
plainly written there, 'do you look forward with any satisfaction
to this change to Mr. Bounderby's?'

'Why, there's one thing to be said of it,' returned Tom, pushing
his chair from him, and standing up; 'it will be getting away from
home.'

'There is one thing to be said of it,' Louisa repeated in her
former curious tone; 'it will be getting away from home. Yes.'

'Not but what I shall be very unwilling, both to leave you, Loo,
and to leave you here. But I must go, you know, whether I like it
or not; and I had better go where I can take with me some advantage
of your influence, than where I should lose it altogether. Don't
you see?'

'Yes, Tom.'

The answer was so long in coming, though there was no indecision in
it, that Tom went and leaned on the back of her chair, to
contemplate the fire which so engrossed her, from her point of
view, and see what he could make of it.

'Except that it is a fire,' said Tom, 'it looks to me as stupid and
blank as everything else looks. What do you see in it? Not a
circus?'

'I don't see anything in it, Tom, particularly. But since I have
been looking at it, I have been wondering about you and me, grown
up.'

'Wondering again!' said Tom.

'I have such unmanageable thoughts,' returned his sister, 'that
they will wonder.'

'Then I beg of you, Louisa,' said Mrs. Gradgrind, who had opened
the door without being heard, 'to do nothing of that description,
for goodness' sake, you inconsiderate girl, or I shall never hear
the last of it from your father. And, Thomas, it is really
shameful, with my poor head continually wearing me out, that a boy
brought up as you have been, and whose education has cost what
yours has, should be found encouraging his sister to wonder, when
he knows his father has expressly said that she is not to do it.'

Louisa denied Tom's participation in the offence; but her mother
stopped her with the conclusive answer, 'Louisa, don't tell me, in
my state of health; for unless you had been encouraged, it is
morally and physically impossible that you could have done it.'

'I was encouraged by nothing, mother, but by looking at the red
sparks dropping out of the fire, and whitening and dying. It made
me think, after all, how short my life would be, and how little I
could hope to do in it.'

'Nonsense!' said Mrs. Gradgrind, rendered almost energetic.
'Nonsense! Don't stand there and tell me such stuff, Louisa, to my
face, when you know very well that if it was ever to reach your
father's ears I should never hear the last of it. After all the
trouble that has been taken with you! After the lectures you have
attended, and the experiments you have seen! After I have heard
you myself, when the whole of my right side has been benumbed,
going on with your master about combustion, and calcination, and
calorification, and I may say every kind of ation that could drive
a poor invalid distracted, to hear you talking in this absurd way
about sparks and ashes! I wish,' whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind, taking
a chair, and discharging her strongest point before succumbing
under these mere shadows of facts, 'yes, I really do wish that I
had never had a family, and then you would have known what it was
to do without me!'

CHAPTER IX - SISSY'S PROGRESS

SISSY JUPE had not an easy time of it, between Mr. M'Choakumchild
and Mrs. Gradgrind, and was not without strong impulses, in the
first months of her probation, to run away. It hailed facts all
day long so very hard, and life in general was opened to her as
such a closely ruled ciphering-book, that assuredly she would have
run away, but for only one restraint.

It is lamentable to think of; but this restraint was the result of
no arithmetical process, was self-imposed in defiance of all
calculation, and went dead against any table of probabilities that
any Actuary would have drawn up from the premises. The girl
believed that her father had not deserted her; she lived in the
hope that he would come back, and in the faith that he would be
made the happier by her remaining where she was.

The wretched ignorance with which Jupe clung to this consolation,
rejecting the superior comfort of knowing, on a sound arithmetical
basis, that her father was an unnatural vagabond, filled Mr.
Gradgrind with pity. Yet, what was to be done? M'Choakumchild
reported that she had a very dense head for figures; that, once
possessed with a general idea of the globe, she took the smallest
conceivable interest in its exact measurements; that she was
extremely slow in the acquisition of dates, unless some pitiful
incident happened to be connected therewith; that she would burst
into tears on being required (by the mental process) immediately to
name the cost of two hundred and forty-seven muslin caps at
fourteen-pence halfpenny; that she was as low down, in the school,
as low could be; that after eight weeks of induction into the
elements of Political Economy, she had only yesterday been set
right by a prattler three feet high, for returning to the question,
'What is the first principle of this science?' the absurd answer,
'To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me.'

Mr. Gradgrind observed, shaking his head, that all this was very
bad; that it showed the necessity of infinite grinding at the mill
of knowledge, as per system, schedule, blue book, report, and
tabular statements A to Z; and that Jupe 'must be kept to it.' So
Jupe was kept to it, and became low-spirited, but no wiser.

'It would be a fine thing to be you, Miss Louisa!' she said, one
night, when Louisa had endeavoured to make her perplexities for
next day something clearer to her.

'Do you think so?'

'I should know so much, Miss Louisa. All that is difficult to me
now, would be so easy then.'

'You might not be the better for it, Sissy.'

Sissy submitted, after a little hesitation, 'I should not be the
worse, Miss Louisa.' To which Miss Louisa answered, 'I don't know
that.'

There had been so little communication between these two - both
because life at Stone Lodge went monotonously round like a piece of
machinery which discouraged human interference, and because of the
prohibition relative to Sissy's past career - that they were still
almost strangers. Sissy, with her dark eyes wonderingly directed
to Louisa's face, was uncertain whether to say more or to remain
silent.

'You are more useful to my mother, and more pleasant with her than
I can ever be,' Louisa resumed. 'You are pleasanter to yourself,
than I am to myself.'

'But, if you please, Miss Louisa,' Sissy pleaded, 'I am - O so
stupid!'

Louisa, with a brighter laugh than usual, told her she would be
wiser by-and-by.

'You don't know,' said Sissy, half crying, 'what a stupid girl I
am. All through school hours I make mistakes. Mr. and Mrs.
M'Choakumchild call me up, over and over again, regularly to make
mistakes. I can't help them. They seem to come natural to me.'

'Mr. and Mrs. M'Choakumchild never make any mistakes themselves, I
suppose, Sissy?'

'O no!' she eagerly returned. 'They know everything.'

'Tell me some of your mistakes.'

'I am almost ashamed,' said Sissy, with reluctance. 'But to-day,
for instance, Mr. M'Choakumchild was explaining to us about Natural
Prosperity.'

'National, I think it must have been,' observed Louisa.

'Yes, it was. - But isn't it the same?' she timidly asked.

'You had better say, National, as he said so,' returned Louisa,
with her dry reserve.

'National Prosperity. And he said, Now, this schoolroom is a
Nation. And in this nation, there are fifty millions of money.
Isn't this a prosperous nation? Girl number twenty, isn't this a
prosperous nation, and a'n't you in a thriving state?'

'What did you say?' asked Louisa.

'Miss Louisa, I said I didn't know. I thought I couldn't know
whether it was a prosperous nation or not, and whether I was in a
thriving state or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and
whether any of it was mine. But that had nothing to do with it.
It was not in the figures at all,' said Sissy, wiping her eyes.

'That was a great mistake of yours,' observed Louisa.

'Yes, Miss Louisa, I know it was, now. Then Mr. M'Choakumchild
said he would try me again. And he said, This schoolroom is an
immense town, and in it there are a million of inhabitants, and
only five-and-twenty are starved to death in the streets, in the
course of a year. What is your remark on that proportion? And my
remark was - for I couldn't think of a better one - that I thought
it must be just as hard upon those who were starved, whether the
others were a million, or a million million. And that was wrong,
too.'

'Of course it was.'

'Then Mr. M'Choakumchild said he would try me once more. And he
said, Here are the stutterings - '

'Statistics,' said Louisa.

'Yes, Miss Louisa - they always remind me of stutterings, and
that's another of my mistakes - of accidents upon the sea. And I
find (Mr. M'Choakumchild said) that in a given time a hundred
thousand persons went to sea on long voyages, and only five hundred
of them were drowned or burnt to death. What is the percentage?
And I said, Miss;' here Sissy fairly sobbed as confessing with
extreme contrition to her greatest error; 'I said it was nothing.'

'Nothing, Sissy?'

'Nothing, Miss - to the relations and friends of the people who
were killed. I shall never learn,' said Sissy. 'And the worst of
all is, that although my poor father wished me so much to learn,
and although I am so anxious to learn, because he wished me to, I
am afraid I don't like it.'

Louisa stood looking at the pretty modest head, as it drooped
abashed before her, until it was raised again to glance at her
face. Then she asked:

'Did your father know so much himself, that he wished you to be
well taught too, Sissy?'

Sissy hesitated before replying, and so plainly showed her sense
that they were entering on forbidden ground, that Louisa added, 'No
one hears us; and if any one did, I am sure no harm could be found
in such an innocent question.'

'No, Miss Louisa,' answered Sissy, upon this encouragement, shaking
her head; 'father knows very little indeed. It's as much as he can
do to write; and it's more than people in general can do to read
his writing. Though it's plain to me.'

'Your mother!'

'Father says she was quite a scholar. She died when I was born.
She was;' Sissy made the terrible communication nervously; 'she was
a dancer.'

'Did your father love her?' Louisa asked these questions with a
strong, wild, wandering interest peculiar to her; an interest gone
astray like a banished creature, and hiding in solitary places.

'O yes! As dearly as he loves me. Father loved me, first, for her
sake. He carried me about with him when I was quite a baby. We
have never been asunder from that time.'

'Yet he leaves you now, Sissy?'

'Only for my good. Nobody understands him as I do; nobody knows
him as I do. When he left me for my good - he never would have
left me for his own - I know he was almost broken-hearted with the
trial. He will not be happy for a single minute, till he comes
back.'

'Tell me more about him,' said Louisa, 'I will never ask you again.
Where did you live?'

'We travelled about the country, and had no fixed place to live in.
Father's a;' Sissy whispered the awful word, 'a clown.'

'To make the people laugh?' said Louisa, with a nod of
intelligence.

'Yes. But they wouldn't laugh sometimes, and then father cried.
Lately, they very often wouldn't laugh, and he used to come home
despairing. Father's not like most. Those who didn't know him as
well as I do, and didn't love him as dearly as I do, might believe
he was not quite right. Sometimes they played tricks upon him; but
they never knew how he felt them, and shrunk up, when he was alone
with me. He was far, far timider than they thought!'

'And you were his comfort through everything?'

She nodded, with the tears rolling down her face. 'I hope so, and
father said I was. It was because he grew so scared and trembling,
and because he felt himself to be a poor, weak, ignorant, helpless
man (those used to be his words), that he wanted me so much to know
a great deal, and be different from him. I used to read to him to
cheer his courage, and he was very fond of that. They were wrong
books - I am never to speak of them here - but we didn't know there
was any harm in them.'

'And he liked them?' said Louisa, with a searching gaze on Sissy
all this time.

'O very much! They kept him, many times, from what did him real
harm. And often and often of a night, he used to forget all his
troubles in wondering whether the Sultan would let the lady go on
with the story, or would have her head cut off before it was
finished.'

'And your father was always kind? To the last?' asked Louisa
contravening the great principle, and wondering very much.

'Always, always!' returned Sissy, clasping her hands. 'Kinder and
kinder than I can tell. He was angry only one night, and that was
not to me, but Merrylegs. Merrylegs;' she whispered the awful
fact; 'is his performing dog.'

'Why was he angry with the dog?' Louisa demanded.

'Father, soon after they came home from performing, told Merrylegs
to jump up on the backs of the two chairs and stand across them -
which is one of his tricks. He looked at father, and didn't do it
at once. Everything of father's had gone wrong that night, and he
hadn't pleased the public at all. He cried out that the very dog
knew he was failing, and had no compassion on him. Then he beat
the dog, and I was frightened, and said, "Father, father! Pray
don't hurt the creature who is so fond of you! O Heaven forgive
you, father, stop!" And he stopped, and the dog was bloody, and
father lay down crying on the floor with the dog in his arms, and
the dog licked his face.'

Louisa saw that she was sobbing; and going to her, kissed her, took
her hand, and sat down beside her.

'Finish by telling me how your father left you, Sissy. Now that I
have asked you so much, tell me the end. The blame, if there is
any blame, is mine, not yours.'

'Dear Miss Louisa,' said Sissy, covering her eyes, and sobbing yet;
'I came home from the school that afternoon, and found poor father
just come home too, from the booth. And he sat rocking himself
over the fire, as if he was in pain. And I said, "Have you hurt
yourself, father?" (as he did sometimes, like they all did), and he
said, "A little, my darling." And when I came to stoop down and
look up at his face, I saw that he was crying. The more I spoke to
him, the more he hid his face; and at first he shook all over, and
said nothing but "My darling;" and "My love!"'

Here Tom came lounging in, and stared at the two with a coolness
not particularly savouring of interest in anything but himself, and
not much of that at present.

'I am asking Sissy a few questions, Tom,' observed his sister.
'You have no occasion to go away; but don't interrupt us for a
moment, Tom dear.'

'Oh! very well!' returned Tom. 'Only father has brought old
Bounderby home, and I want you to come into the drawing-room.
Because if you come, there's a good chance of old Bounderby's
asking me to dinner; and if you don't, there's none.'

'I'll come directly.'

'I'll wait for you,' said Tom, 'to make sure.'

Sissy resumed in a lower voice. 'At last poor father said that he
had given no satisfaction again, and never did give any
satisfaction now, and that he was a shame and disgrace, and I
should have done better without him all along. I said all the
affectionate things to him that came into my heart, and presently
he was quiet and I sat down by him, and told him all about the
school and everything that had been said and done there. When I
had no more left to tell, he put his arms round my neck, and kissed
me a great many times. Then he asked me to fetch some of the stuff
he used, for the little hurt he had had, and to get it at the best
place, which was at the other end of town from there; and then,
after kissing me again, he let me go. When I had gone down-stairs,
I turned back that I might be a little bit more company to him yet,
and looked in at the door, and said, "Father dear, shall I take
Merrylegs?" Father shook his head and said, "No, Sissy, no; take
nothing that's known to be mine, my darling;" and I left him
sitting by the fire. Then the thought must have come upon him,
poor, poor father! of going away to try something for my sake; for
when I came back, he was gone.'

'I say! Look sharp for old Bounderby, Loo!' Tom remonstrated.

'There's no more to tell, Miss Louisa. I keep the nine oils ready
for him, and I know he will come back. Every letter that I see in
Mr. Gradgrind's hand takes my breath away and blinds my eyes, for I
think it comes from father, or from Mr. Sleary about father. Mr.
Sleary promised to write as soon as ever father should be heard of,
and I trust to him to keep his word.'

'Do look sharp for old Bounderby, Loo!' said Tom, with an impatient
whistle. 'He'll be off if you don't look sharp!'

After this, whenever Sissy dropped a curtsey to Mr. Gradgrind in
the presence of his family, and said in a faltering way, 'I beg
your pardon, sir, for being troublesome - but - have you had any
letter yet about me?' Louisa would suspend the occupation of the
moment, whatever it was, and look for the reply as earnestly as
Sissy did. And when Mr. Gradgrind regularly answered, 'No, Jupe,
nothing of the sort,' the trembling of Sissy's lip would be
repeated in Louisa's face, and her eyes would follow Sissy with
compassion to the door. Mr. Gradgrind usually improved these
occasions by remarking, when she was gone, that if Jupe had been
properly trained from an early age she would have remonstrated to
herself on sound principles the baselessness of these fantastic
hopes. Yet it did seem (though not to him, for he saw nothing of
it) as if fantastic hope could take as strong a hold as Fact.

This observation must be limited exclusively to his daughter. As
to Tom, he was becoming that not unprecedented triumph of
calculation which is usually at work on number one. As to Mrs.
Gradgrind, if she said anything on the subject, she would come a
little way out of her wrappers, like a feminine dormouse, and say:

'Good gracious bless me, how my poor head is vexed and worried by
that girl Jupe's so perseveringly asking, over and over again,
about her tiresome letters! Upon my word and honour I seem to be
fated, and destined, and ordained, to live in the midst of things
that I am never to hear the last of. It really is a most
extraordinary circumstance that it appears as if I never was to
hear the last of anything!'

At about this point, Mr. Gradgrind's eye would fall upon her; and
under the influence of that wintry piece of fact, she would become
torpid again.

CHAPTER X - STEPHEN BLACKPOOL

I ENTERTAIN a weak idea that the English people are as hard-worked
as any people upon whom the sun shines. I acknowledge to this
ridiculous idiosyncrasy, as a reason why I would give them a little
more play.

In the hardest working part of Coketown; in the innermost
fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly
bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart
of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets
upon streets, which had come into existence piecemeal, every piece
in a violent hurry for some one man's purpose, and the whole an
unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one
another to death; in the last close nook of this great exhausted
receiver, where the chimneys, for want of air to make a draught,
were built in an immense variety of stunted and crooked shapes, as
though every house put out a sign of the kind of people who might
be expected to be born in it; among the multitude of Coketown,
generically called 'the Hands,' - a race who would have found more
favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them
only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only
hands and stomachs - lived a certain Stephen Blackpool, forty years
of age.

Stephen looked older, but he had had a hard life. It is said that
every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have
been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen's case, whereby somebody
else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed
of the same somebody else's thorns in addition to his own. He had
known, to use his words, a peck of trouble. He was usually called
Old Stephen, in a kind of rough homage to the fact.

A rather stooping man, with a knitted brow, a pondering expression
of face, and a hard-looking head sufficiently capacious, on which
his iron-grey hair lay long and thin, Old Stephen might have passed
for a particularly intelligent man in his condition. Yet he was
not. He took no place among those remarkable 'Hands,' who, piecing
together their broken intervals of leisure through many years, had
mastered difficult sciences, and acquired a knowledge of most
unlikely things. He held no station among the Hands who could make
speeches and carry on debates. Thousands of his compeers could
talk much better than he, at any time. He was a good power-loom
weaver, and a man of perfect integrity. What more he was, or what
else he had in him, if anything, let him show for himself.

The lights in the great factories, which looked, when they were
illuminated, like Fairy palaces - or the travellers by express-
train said so - were all extinguished; and the bells had rung for
knocking off for the night, and had ceased again; and the Hands,
men and women, boy and girl, were clattering home. Old Stephen was
standing in the street, with the old sensation upon him which the
stoppage of the machinery always produced - the sensation of its
having worked and stopped in his own head.

'Yet I don't see Rachael, still!' said he.

It was a wet night, and many groups of young women passed him, with
their shawls drawn over their bare heads and held close under their
chins to keep the rain out. He knew Rachael well, for a glance at
any one of these groups was sufficient to show him that she was not
there. At last, there were no more to come; and then he turned
away, saying in a tone of disappointment, 'Why, then, ha' missed
her!'

But, he had not gone the length of three streets, when he saw
another of the shawled figures in advance of him, at which he
looked so keenly that perhaps its mere shadow indistinctly
reflected on the wet pavement - if he could have seen it without
the figure itself moving along from lamp to lamp, brightening and
fading as it went - would have been enough to tell him who was
there. Making his pace at once much quicker and much softer, he
darted on until he was very near this figure, then fell into his
former walk, and called 'Rachael!'

She turned, being then in the brightness of a lamp; and raising her
hood a little, showed a quiet oval face, dark and rather delicate,
irradiated by a pair of very gentle eyes, and further set off by
the perfect order of her shining black hair. It was not a face in
its first bloom; she was a woman five and thirty years of age.

'Ah, lad! 'Tis thou?' When she had said this, with a smile which
would have been quite expressed, though nothing of her had been
seen but her pleasant eyes, she replaced her hood again, and they
went on together.

'I thought thou wast ahind me, Rachael?'

'No.'

'Early t'night, lass?'

''Times I'm a little early, Stephen! 'times a little late. I'm
never to be counted on, going home.'

'Nor going t'other way, neither, 't seems to me, Rachael?'

'No, Stephen.'

He looked at her with some disappointment in his face, but with a
respectful and patient conviction that she must be right in
whatever she did. The expression was not lost upon her; she laid
her hand lightly on his arm a moment as if to thank him for it.

'We are such true friends, lad, and such old friends, and getting
to be such old folk, now.'

'No, Rachael, thou'rt as young as ever thou wast.'

'One of us would be puzzled how to get old, Stephen, without 't
other getting so too, both being alive,' she answered, laughing;
'but, anyways, we're such old friends, and t' hide a word of honest
truth fro' one another would be a sin and a pity. 'Tis better not
to walk too much together. 'Times, yes! 'Twould be hard, indeed,
if 'twas not to be at all,' she said, with a cheerfulness she
sought to communicate to him.

''Tis hard, anyways, Rachael.'

'Try to think not; and 'twill seem better.'

'I've tried a long time, and 'ta'nt got better. But thou'rt right;
't might mak fok talk, even of thee. Thou hast been that to me,
Rachael, through so many year: thou hast done me so much good, and
heartened of me in that cheering way, that thy word is a law to me.
Ah, lass, and a bright good law! Better than some real ones.'

'Never fret about them, Stephen,' she answered quickly, and not
without an anxious glance at his face. 'Let the laws be.'

'Yes,' he said, with a slow nod or two. 'Let 'em be. Let
everything be. Let all sorts alone. 'Tis a muddle, and that's
aw.'

'Always a muddle?' said Rachael, with another gentle touch upon his
arm, as if to recall him out of the thoughtfulness, in which he was
biting the long ends of his loose neckerchief as he walked along.
The touch had its instantaneous effect. He let them fall, turned a
smiling face upon her, and said, as he broke into a good-humoured
laugh, 'Ay, Rachael, lass, awlus a muddle. That's where I stick.
I come to the muddle many times and agen, and I never get beyond
it.'

They had walked some distance, and were near their own homes. The
woman's was the first reached. It was in one of the many small
streets for which the favourite undertaker (who turned a handsome
sum out of the one poor ghastly pomp of the neighbourhood) kept a
black ladder, in order that those who had done their daily groping
up and down the narrow stairs might slide out of this working world
by the windows. She stopped at the corner, and putting her hand in
his, wished him good night.

'Good night, dear lass; good night!'

She went, with her neat figure and her sober womanly step, down the
dark street, and he stood looking after her until she turned into
one of the small houses. There was not a flutter of her coarse
shawl, perhaps, but had its interest in this man's eyes; not a tone
of her voice but had its echo in his innermost heart.

When she was lost to his view, he pursued his homeward way,
glancing up sometimes at the sky, where the clouds were sailing
fast and wildly. But, they were broken now, and the rain had
ceased, and the moon shone, - looking down the high chimneys of
Coketown on the deep furnaces below, and casting Titanic shadows of
the steam-engines at rest, upon the walls where they were lodged.
The man seemed to have brightened with the night, as he went on.

His home, in such another street as the first, saving that it was
narrower, was over a little shop. How it came to pass that any
people found it worth their while to sell or buy the wretched
little toys, mixed up in its window with cheap newspapers and pork
(there was a leg to be raffled for to-morrow-night), matters not
here. He took his end of candle from a shelf, lighted it at
another end of candle on the counter, without disturbing the
mistress of the shop who was asleep in her little room, and went
upstairs into his lodging.

It was a room, not unacquainted with the black ladder under various
tenants; but as neat, at present, as such a room could be. A few
books and writings were on an old bureau in a corner, the furniture
was decent and sufficient, and, though the atmosphere was tainted,
the room was clean.

Going to the hearth to set the candle down upon a round three-
legged table standing there, he stumbled against something. As he
recoiled, looking down at it, it raised itself up into the form of
a woman in a sitting attitude.

'Heaven's mercy, woman!' he cried, falling farther off from the
figure. 'Hast thou come back again!'

Such a woman! A disabled, drunken creature, barely able to
preserve her sitting posture by steadying herself with one begrimed
hand on the floor, while the other was so purposeless in trying to
push away her tangled hair from her face, that it only blinded her
the more with the dirt upon it. A creature so foul to look at, in
her tatters, stains and splashes, but so much fouler than that in
her moral infamy, that it was a shameful thing even to see her.

After an impatient oath or two, and some stupid clawing of herself
with the hand not necessary to her support, she got her hair away
from her eyes sufficiently to obtain a sight of him. Then she sat
swaying her body to and fro, and making gestures with her unnerved
arm, which seemed intended as the accompaniment to a fit of
laughter, though her face was stolid and drowsy.

'Eigh, lad? What, yo'r there?' Some hoarse sounds meant for this,
came mockingly out of her at last; and her head dropped forward on
her breast.

'Back agen?' she screeched, after some minutes, as if he had that
moment said it. 'Yes! And back agen. Back agen ever and ever so
often. Back? Yes, back. Why not?'

Roused by the unmeaning violence with which she cried it out, she
scrambled up, and stood supporting herself with her shoulders
against the wall; dangling in one hand by the string, a dunghill-
fragment of a bonnet, and trying to look scornfully at him.

'I'll sell thee off again, and I'll sell thee off again, and I'll
sell thee off a score of times!' she cried, with something between
a furious menace and an effort at a defiant dance. 'Come awa' from
th' bed!' He was sitting on the side of it, with his face hidden
in his hands. 'Come awa! from 't. 'Tis mine, and I've a right to
t'!'

As she staggered to it, he avoided her with a shudder, and passed -
his face still hidden - to the opposite end of the room. She threw
herself upon the bed heavily, and soon was snoring hard. He sunk
into a chair, and moved but once all that night. It was to throw a
covering over her; as if his hands were not enough to hide her,
even in the darkness.

CHAPTER XI - NO WAY OUT

THE Fairy palaces burst into illumination, before pale morning
showed the monstrous serpents of smoke trailing themselves over
Coketown. A clattering of clogs upon the pavement; a rapid ringing
of bells; and all the melancholy mad elephants, polished and oiled
up for the day's monotony, were at their heavy exercise again.

Stephen bent over his loom, quiet, watchful, and steady. A special
contrast, as every man was in the forest of looms where Stephen
worked, to the crashing, smashing, tearing piece of mechanism at
which he laboured. Never fear, good people of an anxious turn of
mind, that Art will consign Nature to oblivion. Set anywhere, side
by side, the work of GOD and the work of man; and the former, even
though it be a troop of Hands of very small account, will gain in
dignity from the comparison.

So many hundred Hands in this Mill; so many hundred horse Steam
Power. It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what
the engine will do; but, not all the calculators of the National
Debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred,
for patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into
vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul of one of
these its quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated
actions. There is no mystery in it; there is an unfathomable
mystery in the meanest of them, for ever. - Supposing we were to
reverse our arithmetic for material objects, and to govern these
awful unknown quantities by other means!

The day grew strong, and showed itself outside, even against the
flaming lights within. The lights were turned out, and the work
went on. The rain fell, and the Smoke-serpents, submissive to the
curse of all that tribe, trailed themselves upon the earth. In the
waste-yard outside, the steam from the escape pipe, the litter of
barrels and old iron, the shining heaps of coals, the ashes
everywhere, were shrouded in a veil of mist and rain.

The work went on, until the noon-bell rang. More clattering upon
the pavements. The looms, and wheels, and Hands all out of gear
for an hour.

Stephen came out of the hot mill into the damp wind and cold wet
streets, haggard and worn. He turned from his own class and his
own quarter, taking nothing but a little bread as he walked along,
towards the hill on which his principal employer lived, in a red
house with black outside shutters, green inside blinds, a black
street door, up two white steps, BOUNDERBY (in letters very like
himself) upon a brazen plate, and a round brazen door-handle
underneath it, like a brazen full-stop.

Mr. Bounderby was at his lunch. So Stephen had expected. Would
his servant say that one of the Hands begged leave to speak to him?
Message in return, requiring name of such Hand. Stephen Blackpool.
There was nothing troublesome against Stephen Blackpool; yes, he
might come in.

Stephen Blackpool in the parlour. Mr. Bounderby (whom he just knew
by sight), at lunch on chop and sherry. Mrs. Sparsit netting at
the fireside, in a side-saddle attitude, with one foot in a cotton
stirrup. It was a part, at once of Mrs. Sparsit's dignity and
service, not to lunch. She supervised the meal officially, but
implied that in her own stately person she considered lunch a
weakness.

'Now, Stephen,' said Mr. Bounderby, 'what's the matter with you?'

Stephen made a bow. Not a servile one - these Hands will never do
that! Lord bless you, sir, you'll never catch them at that, if
they have been with you twenty years! - and, as a complimentary
toilet for Mrs. Sparsit, tucked his neckerchief ends into his
waistcoat.

'Now, you know,' said Mr. Bounderby, taking some sherry, 'we have
never had any difficulty with you, and you have never been one of
the unreasonable ones. You don't expect to be set up in a coach
and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold
spoon, as a good many of 'em do!' Mr. Bounderby always represented
this to be the sole, immediate, and direct object of any Hand who
was not entirely satisfied; 'and therefore I know already that you
have not come here to make a complaint. Now, you know, I am
certain of that, beforehand.'

'No, sir, sure I ha' not coom for nowt o' th' kind.'

Mr. Bounderby seemed agreeably surprised, notwithstanding his
previous strong conviction. 'Very well,' he returned. 'You're a
steady Hand, and I was not mistaken. Now, let me hear what it's
all about. As it's not that, let me hear what it is. What have
you got to say? Out with it, lad!'

Stephen happened to glance towards Mrs. Sparsit. 'I can go, Mr.
Bounderby, if you wish it,' said that self-sacrificing lady, making
a feint of taking her foot out of the stirrup.

Mr. Bounderby stayed her, by holding a mouthful of chop in
suspension before swallowing it, and putting out his left hand.
Then, withdrawing his hand and swallowing his mouthful of chop, he
said to Stephen:

'Now you know, this good lady is a born lady, a high lady. You are
not to suppose because she keeps my house for me, that she hasn't
been very high up the tree - ah, up at the top of the tree! Now,
if you have got anything to say that can't be said before a born
lady, this lady will leave the room. If what you have got to say
can be said before a born lady, this lady will stay where she is.'

'Sir, I hope I never had nowt to say, not fitten for a born lady to
year, sin' I were born mysen',' was the reply, accompanied with a
slight flush.

'Very well,' said Mr. Bounderby, pushing away his plate, and
leaning back. 'Fire away!'

'I ha' coom,' Stephen began, raising his eyes from the floor, after
a moment's consideration, 'to ask yo yor advice. I need 't
overmuch. I were married on Eas'r Monday nineteen year sin, long
and dree. She were a young lass - pretty enow - wi' good accounts
of herseln. Well! She went bad - soon. Not along of me. Gonnows
I were not a unkind husband to her.'

'I have heard all this before,' said Mr. Bounderby. 'She took to
drinking, left off working, sold the furniture, pawned the clothes,
and played old Gooseberry.'

'I were patient wi' her.'

('The more fool you, I think,' said Mr. Bounderby, in confidence to
his wine-glass.)

'I were very patient wi' her. I tried to wean her fra 't ower and
ower agen. I tried this, I tried that, I tried t'other. I ha'
gone home, many's the time, and found all vanished as I had in the
world, and her without a sense left to bless herseln lying on bare
ground. I ha' dun 't not once, not twice - twenty time!'

Every line in his face deepened as he said it, and put in its
affecting evidence of the suffering he had undergone.

'From bad to worse, from worse to worsen. She left me. She
disgraced herseln everyways, bitter and bad. She coom back, she
coom back, she coom back. What could I do t' hinder her? I ha'
walked the streets nights long, ere ever I'd go home. I ha' gone
t' th' brigg, minded to fling myseln ower, and ha' no more on't. I
ha' bore that much, that I were owd when I were young.'

Mrs. Sparsit, easily ambling along with her netting-needles, raised
the Coriolanian eyebrows and shook her head, as much as to say,
'The great know trouble as well as the small. Please to turn your
humble eye in My direction.'

'I ha' paid her to keep awa' fra' me. These five year I ha' paid
her. I ha' gotten decent fewtrils about me agen. I ha' lived hard
and sad, but not ashamed and fearfo' a' the minnits o' my life.
Last night, I went home. There she lay upon my har-stone! There
she is!'

In the strength of his misfortune, and the energy of his distress,
he fired for the moment like a proud man. In another moment, he
stood as he had stood all the time - his usual stoop upon him; his
pondering face addressed to Mr. Bounderby, with a curious
expression on it, half shrewd, half perplexed, as if his mind were
set upon unravelling something very difficult; his hat held tight
in his left hand, which rested on his hip; his right arm, with a
rugged propriety and force of action, very earnestly emphasizing
what he said: not least so when it always paused, a little bent,
but not withdrawn, as he paused.

'I was acquainted with all this, you know,' said Mr. Bounderby,
'except the last clause, long ago. It's a bad job; that's what it
is. You had better have been satisfied as you were, and not have
got married. However, it's too late to say that.'

'Was it an unequal marriage, sir, in point of years?' asked Mrs.
Sparsit.

'You hear what this lady asks. Was it an unequal marriage in point
of years, this unlucky job of yours?' said Mr. Bounderby.

'Not e'en so. I were one-and-twenty myseln; she were twenty
nighbut.'

'Indeed, sir?' said Mrs. Sparsit to her Chief, with great
placidity. 'I inferred, from its being so miserable a marriage,
that it was probably an unequal one in point of years.'

Mr. Bounderby looked very hard at the good lady in a side-long way
that had an odd sheepishness about it. He fortified himself with a
little more sherry.

'Well? Why don't you go on?' he then asked, turning rather
irritably on Stephen Blackpool.

'I ha' coom to ask yo, sir, how I am to be ridded o' this woman.'
Stephen infused a yet deeper gravity into the mixed expression of
his attentive face. Mrs. Sparsit uttered a gentle ejaculation, as
having received a moral shock.

'What do you mean?' said Bounderby, getting up to lean his back
against the chimney-piece. 'What are you talking about? You took
her for better for worse.'

'I mun' be ridden o' her. I cannot bear 't nommore. I ha' lived
under 't so long, for that I ha' had'n the pity and comforting
words o' th' best lass living or dead. Haply, but for her, I
should ha' gone battering mad.'

'He wishes to be free, to marry the female of whom he speaks, I
fear, sir,' observed Mrs. Sparsit in an undertone, and much
dejected by the immorality of the people.

'I do. The lady says what's right. I do. I were a coming to 't.
I ha' read i' th' papers that great folk (fair faw 'em a'! I
wishes 'em no hurt!) are not bonded together for better for worst
so fast, but that they can be set free fro' their misfortnet
marriages, an' marry ower agen. When they dunnot agree, for that
their tempers is ill-sorted, they has rooms o' one kind an' another
in their houses, above a bit, and they can live asunders. We fok
ha' only one room, and we can't. When that won't do, they ha' gowd
an' other cash, an' they can say "This for yo' an' that for me,"
an' they can go their separate ways. We can't. Spite o' all that,
they can be set free for smaller wrongs than mine. So, I mun be
ridden o' this woman, and I want t' know how?'

'No how,' returned Mr. Bounderby.

'If I do her any hurt, sir, there's a law to punish me?'

'Of course there is.'

'If I flee from her, there's a law to punish me?'

'Of course there is.'

'If I marry t'oother dear lass, there's a law to punish me?'

'Of course there is.'

'If I was to live wi' her an' not marry her - saying such a thing
could be, which it never could or would, an' her so good - there's
a law to punish me, in every innocent child belonging to me?'

'Of course there is.'

'Now, a' God's name,' said Stephen Blackpool, 'show me the law to
help me!'

'Hem! There's a sanctity in this relation of life,' said Mr.
Bounderby, 'and - and - it must be kept up.'

'No no, dunnot say that, sir. 'Tan't kep' up that way. Not that
way. 'Tis kep' down that way. I'm a weaver, I were in a fact'ry
when a chilt, but I ha' gotten een to see wi' and eern to year wi'.
I read in th' papers every 'Sizes, every Sessions - and you read
too - I know it! - with dismay - how th' supposed unpossibility o'
ever getting unchained from one another, at any price, on any
terms, brings blood upon this land, and brings many common married
fok to battle, murder, and sudden death. Let us ha' this, right
understood. Mine's a grievous case, an' I want - if yo will be so
good - t' know the law that helps me.'

'Now, I tell you what!' said Mr. Bounderby, putting his hands in
his pockets. 'There is such a law.'

Stephen, subsiding into his quiet manner, and never wandering in
his attention, gave a nod.

'But it's not for you at all. It costs money. It costs a mint of
money.'

'How much might that be?' Stephen calmly asked.

'Why, you'd have to go to Doctors' Commons with a suit, and you'd
have to go to a court of Common Law with a suit, and you'd have to
go to the House of Lords with a suit, and you'd have to get an Act
of Parliament to enable you to marry again, and it would cost you
(if it was a case of very plain sailing), I suppose from a thousand
to fifteen hundred pound,' said Mr. Bounderby. 'Perhaps twice the
money.'

'There's no other law?'

'Certainly not.'

'Why then, sir,' said Stephen, turning white, and motioning with
that right hand of his, as if he gave everything to the four winds,
''tis a muddle. 'Tis just a muddle a'toogether, an' the sooner I
am dead, the better.'

(Mrs. Sparsit again dejected by the impiety of the people.)

'Pooh, pooh! Don't you talk nonsense, my good fellow,' said Mr.
Bounderby, 'about things you don't understand; and don't you call
the Institutions of your country a muddle, or you'll get yourself
into a real muddle one of these fine mornings. The institutions of
your country are not your piece-work, and the only thing you have
got to do, is, to mind your piece-work. You didn't take your wife
for fast and for loose; but for better for worse. If she has
turned out worse - why, all we have got to say is, she might have
turned out better.'

''Tis a muddle,' said Stephen, shaking his head as he moved to the
door. ''Tis a' a muddle!'

'Now, I'll tell you what!' Mr. Bounderby resumed, as a valedictory
address. 'With what I shall call your unhallowed opinions, you
have been quite shocking this lady: who, as I have already told
you, is a born lady, and who, as I have not already told you, has
had her own marriage misfortunes to the tune of tens of thousands
of pounds - tens of Thousands of Pounds!' (he repeated it with
great relish). 'Now, you have always been a steady Hand hitherto;
but my opinion is, and so I tell you plainly, that you are turning
into the wrong road. You have been listening to some mischievous
stranger or other - they're always about - and the best thing you
can do is, to come out of that. Now you know;' here his
countenance expressed marvellous acuteness; 'I can see as far into
a grindstone as another man; farther than a good many, perhaps,
because I had my nose well kept to it when I was young. I see
traces of the turtle soup, and venison, and gold spoon in this.
Yes, I do!' cried Mr. Bounderby, shaking his head with obstinate
cunning. 'By the Lord Harry, I do!'

With a very different shake of the head and deep sigh, Stephen
said, 'Thank you, sir, I wish you good day.' So he left Mr.
Bounderby swelling at his own portrait on the wall, as if he were
going to explode himself into it; and Mrs. Sparsit still ambling on
with her foot in her stirrup, looking quite cast down by the
popular vices.

CHAPTER XII - THE OLD WOMAN

OLD STEPHEN descended the two white steps, shutting the black door
with the brazen door-plate, by the aid of the brazen full-stop, to
which he gave a parting polish with the sleeve of his coat,
observing that his hot hand clouded it. He crossed the street with
his eyes bent upon the ground, and thus was walking sorrowfully
away, when he felt a touch upon his arm.

It was not the touch he needed most at such a moment - the touch
that could calm the wild waters of his soul, as the uplifted hand
of the sublimest love and patience could abate the raging of the
sea - yet it was a woman's hand too. It was an old woman, tall and
shapely still, though withered by time, on whom his eyes fell when
he stopped and turned. She was very cleanly and plainly dressed,
had country mud upon her shoes, and was newly come from a journey.
The flutter of her manner, in the unwonted noise of the streets;
the spare shawl, carried unfolded on her arm; the heavy umbrella,
and little basket; the loose long-fingered gloves, to which her
hands were unused; all bespoke an old woman from the country, in
her plain holiday clothes, come into Coketown on an expedition of
rare occurrence. Remarking this at a glance, with the quick
observation of his class, Stephen Blackpool bent his attentive face
- his face, which, like the faces of many of his order, by dint of
long working with eyes and hands in the midst of a prodigious
noise, had acquired the concentrated look with which we are
familiar in the countenances of the deaf - the better to hear what
she asked him.

'Pray, sir,' said the old woman, 'didn't I see you come out of that
gentleman's house?' pointing back to Mr. Bounderby's. 'I believe
it was you, unless I have had the bad luck to mistake the person in
following?'

'Yes, missus,' returned Stephen, 'it were me.'

'Have you - you'll excuse an old woman's curiosity - have you seen
the gentleman?'

'Yes, missus.'

'And how did he look, sir? Was he portly, bold, outspoken, and
hearty?' As she straightened her own figure, and held up her head
in adapting her action to her words, the idea crossed Stephen that
he had seen this old woman before, and had not quite liked her.

'O yes,' he returned, observing her more attentively, 'he were all
that.'

'And healthy,' said the old woman, 'as the fresh wind?'

'Yes,' returned Stephen. 'He were ett'n and drinking - as large
and as loud as a Hummobee.'

'Thank you!' said the old woman, with infinite content. 'Thank
you!'

He certainly never had seen this old woman before. Yet there was a
vague remembrance in his mind, as if he had more than once dreamed
of some old woman like her.

She walked along at his side, and, gently accommodating himself to
her humour, he said Coketown was a busy place, was it not? To
which she answered 'Eigh sure! Dreadful busy!' Then he said, she
came from the country, he saw? To which she answered in the
affirmative.

'By Parliamentary, this morning. I came forty mile by
Parliamentary this morning, and I'm going back the same forty mile
this afternoon. I walked nine mile to the station this morning,
and if I find nobody on the road to give me a lift, I shall walk
the nine mile back to-night. That's pretty well, sir, at my age!'
said the chatty old woman, her eye brightening with exultation.

''Deed 'tis. Don't do't too often, missus.'

'No, no. Once a year,' she answered, shaking her head. 'I spend
my savings so, once every year. I come regular, to tramp about the
streets, and see the gentlemen.'

'Only to see 'em?' returned Stephen.

'That's enough for me,' she replied, with great earnestness and
interest of manner. 'I ask no more! I have been standing about,
on this side of the way, to see that gentleman,' turning her head
back towards Mr. Bounderby's again, 'come out. But, he's late this
year, and I have not seen him. You came out instead. Now, if I am
obliged to go back without a glimpse of him - I only want a glimpse
- well! I have seen you, and you have seen him, and I must make
that do.' Saying this, she looked at Stephen as if to fix his
features in her mind, and her eye was not so bright as it had been.

With a large allowance for difference of tastes, and with all
submission to the patricians of Coketown, this seemed so
extraordinary a source of interest to take so much trouble about,
that it perplexed him. But they were passing the church now, and
as his eye caught the clock, he quickened his pace.

He was going to his work? the old woman said, quickening hers, too,
quite easily. Yes, time was nearly out. On his telling her where
he worked, the old woman became a more singular old woman than
before.

'An't you happy?' she asked him.

'Why - there's awmost nobbody but has their troubles, missus.' He
answered evasively, because the old woman appeared to take it for
granted that he would be very happy indeed, and he had not the
heart to disappoint her. He knew that there was trouble enough in
the world; and if the old woman had lived so long, and could count
upon his having so little, why so much the better for her, and none
the worse for him.

'Ay, ay! You have your troubles at home, you mean?' she said.

'Times. Just now and then,' he answered, slightly.

'But, working under such a gentleman, they don't follow you to the
Factory?'

No, no; they didn't follow him there, said Stephen. All correct
there. Everything accordant there. (He did not go so far as to
say, for her pleasure, that there was a sort of Divine Right there;
but, I have heard claims almost as magnificent of late years.)

They were now in the black by-road near the place, and the Hands
were crowding in. The bell was ringing, and the Serpent was a
Serpent of many coils, and the Elephant was getting ready. The
strange old woman was delighted with the very bell. It was the
beautifullest bell she had ever heard, she said, and sounded grand!

She asked him, when he stopped good-naturedly to shake hands with
her before going in, how long he had worked there?

'A dozen year,' he told her.

'I must kiss the hand,' said she, 'that has worked in this fine
factory for a dozen year!' And she lifted it, though he would have
prevented her, and put it to her lips. What harmony, besides her
age and her simplicity, surrounded her, he did not know, but even
in this fantastic action there was a something neither out of time
nor place: a something which it seemed as if nobody else could
have made as serious, or done with such a natural and touching air.

He had been at his loom full half an hour, thinking about this old
woman, when, having occasion to move round the loom for its
adjustment, he glanced through a window which was in his corner,
and saw her still looking up at the pile of building, lost in
admiration. Heedless of the smoke and mud and wet, and of her two
long journeys, she was gazing at it, as if the heavy thrum that
issued from its many stories were proud music to her.

She was gone by and by, and the day went after her, and the lights
sprung up again, and the Express whirled in full sight of the Fairy
Palace over the arches near: little felt amid the jarring of the
machinery, and scarcely heard above its crash and rattle. Long
before then his thoughts had gone back to the dreary room above the
little shop, and to the shameful figure heavy on the bed, but
heavier on his heart.

Machinery slackened; throbbing feebly like a fainting pulse;
stopped. The bell again; the glare of light and heat dispelled;
the factories, looming heavy in the black wet night - their tall
chimneys rising up into the air like competing Towers of Babel.

He had spoken to Rachael only last night, it was true, and had
walked with her a little way; but he had his new misfortune on him,
in which no one else could give him a moment's relief, and, for the
sake of it, and because he knew himself to want that softening of
his anger which no voice but hers could effect, he felt he might so
far disregard what she had said as to wait for her again. He
waited, but she had eluded him. She was gone. On no other night
in the year could he so ill have spared her patient face.

O! Better to have no home in which to lay his head, than to have a
home and dread to go to it, through such a cause. He ate and
drank, for he was exhausted - but he little knew or cared what; and
he wandered about in the chill rain, thinking and thinking, and
brooding and brooding.

No word of a new marriage had ever passed between them; but Rachael
had taken great pity on him years ago, and to her alone he had
opened his closed heart all this time, on the subject of his
miseries; and he knew very well that if he were free to ask her,
she would take him. He thought of the home he might at that moment
have been seeking with pleasure and pride; of the different man he
might have been that night; of the lightness then in his now heavy-
laden breast; of the then restored honour, self-respect, and
tranquillity all torn to pieces. He thought of the waste of the
best part of his life, of the change it made in his character for
the worse every day, of the dreadful nature of his existence, bound
hand and foot, to a dead woman, and tormented by a demon in her
shape. He thought of Rachael, how young when they were first
brought together in these circumstances, how mature now, how soon
to grow old. He thought of the number of girls and women she had
seen marry, how many homes with children in them she had seen grow
up around her, how she had contentedly pursued her own lone quiet
path - for him - and how he had sometimes seen a shade of
melancholy on her blessed face, that smote him with remorse and
despair. He set the picture of her up, beside the infamous image
of last night; and thought, Could it be, that the whole earthly
course of one so gentle, good, and self-denying, was subjugate to
such a wretch as that!

Filled with these thoughts - so filled that he had an unwholesome
sense of growing larger, of being placed in some new and diseased
relation towards the objects among which he passed, of seeing the
iris round every misty light turn red - he went home for shelter.

CHAPTER XIII - RACHAEL

A CANDLE faintly burned in the window, to which the black ladder
had often been raised for the sliding away of all that was most
precious in this world to a striving wife and a brood of hungry
babies; and Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern
reflection, that of all the casualties of this existence upon
earth, not one was dealt out with so unequal a hand as Death. The
inequality of Birth was nothing to it. For, say that the child of
a King and the child of a Weaver were born to-night in the same
moment, what was that disparity, to the death of any human creature
who was serviceable to, or beloved by, another, while this
abandoned woman lived on!

From the outside of his home he gloomily passed to the inside, with
suspended breath and with a slow footstep. He went up to his door,
opened it, and so into the room.

Quiet and peace were there. Rachael was there, sitting by the bed.

She turned her head, and the light of her face shone in upon the
midnight of his mind. She sat by the bed, watching and tending his
wife. That is to say, he saw that some one lay there, and he knew
too well it must be she; but Rachael's hands had put a curtain up,
so that she was screened from his eyes. Her disgraceful garments
were removed, and some of Rachael's were in the room. Everything
was in its place and order as he had always kept it, the little
fire was newly trimmed, and the hearth was freshly swept. It
appeared to him that he saw all this in Rachael's face, and looked
at nothing besides. While looking at it, it was shut out from his
view by the softened tears that filled his eyes; but not before he
had seen how earnestly she looked at him, and how her own eyes were
filled too.

She turned again towards the bed, and satisfying herself that all
was quiet there, spoke in a low, calm, cheerful voice.

'I am glad you have come at last, Stephen. You are very late.'

'I ha' been walking up an' down.'

'I thought so. But 'tis too bad a night for that. The rain falls
very heavy, and the wind has risen.'

The wind? True. It was blowing hard. Hark to the thundering in
the chimney, and the surging noise! To have been out in such a
wind, and not to have known it was blowing!

'I have been here once before, to-day, Stephen. Landlady came
round for me at dinner-time. There was some one here that needed
looking to, she said. And 'deed she was right. All wandering and
lost, Stephen. Wounded too, and bruised.'

He slowly moved to a chair and sat down, drooping his head before
her.

'I came to do what little I could, Stephen; first, for that she
worked with me when we were girls both, and for that you courted
her and married her when I was her friend - '

He laid his furrowed forehead on his hand, with a low groan.

'And next, for that I know your heart, and am right sure and
certain that 'tis far too merciful to let her die, or even so much
as suffer, for want of aid. Thou knowest who said, "Let him who is
without sin among you cast the first stone at her!" There have
been plenty to do that. Thou art not the man to cast the last
stone, Stephen, when she is brought so low.'

'O Rachael, Rachael!'

'Thou hast been a cruel sufferer, Heaven reward thee!' she said, in
compassionate accents. 'I am thy poor friend, with all my heart
and mind.'

The wounds of which she had spoken, seemed to be about the neck of
the self-made outcast. She dressed them now, still without showing
her. She steeped a piece of linen in a basin, into which she
poured some liquid from a bottle, and laid it with a gentle hand
upon the sore. The three-legged table had been drawn close to the
bedside, and on it there were two bottles. This was one.

It was not so far off, but that Stephen, following her hands with
his eyes, could read what was printed on it in large letters. He
turned of a deadly hue, and a sudden horror seemed to fall upon
him.

'I will stay here, Stephen,' said Rachael, quietly resuming her
seat, 'till the bells go Three. 'Tis to be done again at three,
and then she may be left till morning.'

'But thy rest agen to-morrow's work, my dear.'

'I slept sound last night. I can wake many nights, when I am put
to it. 'Tis thou who art in need of rest - so white and tired.
Try to sleep in the chair there, while I watch. Thou hadst no
sleep last night, I can well believe. To-morrow's work is far
harder for thee than for me.'

He heard the thundering and surging out of doors, and it seemed to
him as if his late angry mood were going about trying to get at
him. She had cast it out; she would keep it out; he trusted to her
to defend him from himself.

'She don't know me, Stephen; she just drowsily mutters and stares.
I have spoken to her times and again, but she don't notice! 'Tis
as well so. When she comes to her right mind once more, I shall
have done what I can, and she never the wiser.'

'How long, Rachael, is 't looked for, that she'll be so?'

'Doctor said she would haply come to her mind to-morrow.'

His eyes fell again on the bottle, and a tremble passed over him,
causing him to shiver in every limb. She thought he was chilled
with the wet. 'No,' he said, 'it was not that. He had had a
fright.'

'A fright?'

'Ay, ay! coming in. When I were walking. When I were thinking.
When I - ' It seized him again; and he stood up, holding by the
mantel-shelf, as he pressed his dank cold hair down with a hand
that shook as if it were palsied.

'Stephen!'

She was coming to him, but he stretched out his arm to stop her.

'No! Don't, please; don't. Let me see thee setten by the bed.
Let me see thee, a' so good, and so forgiving. Let me see thee as
I see thee when I coom in. I can never see thee better than so.
Never, never, never!'

He had a violent fit of trembling, and then sunk into his chair.
After a time he controlled himself, and, resting with an elbow on
one knee, and his head upon that hand, could look towards Rachael.
Seen across the dim candle with his moistened eyes, she looked as
if she had a glory shining round her head. He could have believed
she had. He did believe it, as the noise without shook the window,
rattled at the door below, and went about the house clamouring and
lamenting.

'When she gets better, Stephen, 'tis to be hoped she'll leave thee
to thyself again, and do thee no more hurt. Anyways we will hope
so now. And now I shall keep silence, for I want thee to sleep.'

He closed his eyes, more to please her than to rest his weary head;
but, by slow degrees as he listened to the great noise of the wind,
he ceased to hear it, or it changed into the working of his loom,
or even into the voices of the day (his own included) saying what
had been really said. Even this imperfect consciousness faded away
at last, and he dreamed a long, troubled dream.

He thought that he, and some one on whom his heart had long been
set - but she was not Rachael, and that surprised him, even in the
midst of his imaginary happiness - stood in the church being
married. While the ceremony was performing, and while he
recognized among the witnesses some whom he knew to be living, and
many whom he knew to be dead, darkness came on, succeeded by the
shining of a tremendous light. It broke from one line in the table
of commandments at the altar, and illuminated the building with the
words. They were sounded through the church, too, as if there were
voices in the fiery letters. Upon this, the whole appearance
before him and around him changed, and nothing was left as it had
been, but himself and the clergyman. They stood in the daylight
before a crowd so vast, that if all the people in the world could
have been brought together into one space, they could not have
looked, he thought, more numerous; and they all abhorred him, and
there was not one pitying or friendly eye among the millions that
were fastened on his face. He stood on a raised stage, under his
own loom; and, looking up at the shape the loom took, and hearing
the burial service distinctly read, he knew that he was there to
suffer death. In an instant what he stood on fell below him, and
he was gone.

- Out of what mystery he came back to his usual life, and to places
that he knew, he was unable to consider; but he was back in those
places by some means, and with this condemnation upon him, that he
was never, in this world or the next, through all the unimaginable
ages of eternity, to look on Rachael's face or hear her voice.
Wandering to and fro, unceasingly, without hope, and in search of
he knew not what (he only knew that he was doomed to seek it), he
was the subject of a nameless, horrible dread, a mortal fear of one
particular shape which everything took. Whatsoever he looked at,
grew into that form sooner or later. The object of his miserable
existence was to prevent its recognition by any one among the
various people he encountered. Hopeless labour! If he led them
out of rooms where it was, if he shut up drawers and closets where
it stood, if he drew the curious from places where he knew it to be
secreted, and got them out into the streets, the very chimneys of
the mills assumed that shape, and round them was the printed word.

The wind was blowing again, the rain was beating on the house-tops,
and the larger spaces through which he had strayed contracted to
the four walls of his room. Saving that the fire had died out, it
was as his eyes had closed upon it. Rachael seemed to have fallen
into a doze, in the chair by the bed. She sat wrapped in her
shawl, perfectly still. The table stood in the same place, close
by the bedside, and on it, in its real proportions and appearance,
was the shape so often repeated.

He thought he saw the curtain move. He looked again, and he was
sure it moved. He saw a hand come forth and grope about a little.
Then the curtain moved more perceptibly, and the woman in the bed
put it back, and sat up.

With her woful eyes, so haggard and wild, so heavy and large, she
looked all round the room, and passed the corner where he slept in
his chair. Her eyes returned to that corner, and she put her hand
over them as a shade, while she looked into it. Again they went
all round the room, scarcely heeding Rachael if at all, and
returned to that corner. He thought, as she once more shaded them
- not so much looking at him, as looking for him with a brutish
instinct that he was there - that no single trace was left in those
debauched features, or in the mind that went along with them, of
the woman he had married eighteen years before. But that he had
seen her come to this by inches, he never could have believed her
to be the same.

All this time, as if a spell were on him, he was motionless and
powerless, except to watch her.

Stupidly dozing, or communing with her incapable self about
nothing, she sat for a little while with her hands at her ears, and
her head resting on them. Presently, she resumed her staring round
the room. And now, for the first time, her eyes stopped at the
table with the bottles on it.

Straightway she turned her eyes back to his corner, with the
defiance of last night, and moving very cautiously and softly,
stretched out her greedy hand. She drew a mug into the bed, and
sat for a while considering which of the two bottles she should
choose. Finally, she laid her insensate grasp upon the bottle that
had swift and certain death in it, and, before his eyes, pulled out
the cork with her teeth.

Dream or reality, he had no voice, nor had he power to stir. If
this be real, and her allotted time be not yet come, wake, Rachael,
wake!

She thought of that, too. She looked at Rachael, and very slowly,
very cautiously, poured out the contents. The draught was at her
lips. A moment and she would be past all help, let the whole world
wake and come about her with its utmost power. But in that moment
Rachael started up with a suppressed cry. The creature struggled,
struck her, seized her by the hair; but Rachael had the cup.

Stephen broke out of his chair. 'Rachael, am I wakin' or dreamin'
this dreadfo' night?'

''Tis all well, Stephen. I have been asleep, myself. 'Tis near
three. Hush! I hear the bells.'

The wind brought the sounds of the church clock to the window.
They listened, and it struck three. Stephen looked at her, saw how
pale she was, noted the disorder of her hair, and the red marks of
fingers on her forehead, and felt assured that his senses of sight
and hearing had been awake. She held the cup in her hand even now.

'I thought it must be near three,' she said, calmly pouring from
the cup into the basin, and steeping the linen as before. 'I am
thankful I stayed! 'Tis done now, when I have put this on. There!
And now she's quiet again. The few drops in the basin I'll pour
away, for 'tis bad stuff to leave about, though ever so little of
it.' As she spoke, she drained the basin into the ashes of the
fire, and broke the bottle on the hearth.

She had nothing to do, then, but to cover herself with her shawl
before going out into the wind and rain.

'Thou'lt let me walk wi' thee at this hour, Rachael?'

'No, Stephen. 'Tis but a minute, and I'm home.'

'Thou'rt not fearfo';' he said it in a low voice, as they went out
at the door; 'to leave me alone wi' her!'

As she looked at him, saying, 'Stephen?' he went down on his knee
before her, on the poor mean stairs, and put an end of her shawl to
his lips.

'Thou art an Angel. Bless thee, bless thee!'

'I am, as I have told thee, Stephen, thy poor friend. Angels are
not like me. Between them, and a working woman fu' of faults,
there is a deep gulf set. My little sister is among them, but she
is changed.'

She raised her eyes for a moment as she said the words; and then
they fell again, in all their gentleness and mildness, on his face.

'Thou changest me from bad to good. Thou mak'st me humbly wishfo'
to be more like thee, and fearfo' to lose thee when this life is
ower, and a' the muddle cleared awa'. Thou'rt an Angel; it may be,
thou hast saved my soul alive!'

She looked at him, on his knee at her feet, with her shawl still in
his hand, and the reproof on her lips died away when she saw the
working of his face.

'I coom home desp'rate. I coom home wi'out a hope, and mad wi'
thinking that when I said a word o' complaint I was reckoned a
unreasonable Hand. I told thee I had had a fright. It were the
Poison-bottle on table. I never hurt a livin' creetur; but
happenin' so suddenly upon 't, I thowt, "How can I say what I might
ha' done to myseln, or her, or both!"'

She put her two hands on his mouth, with a face of terror, to stop
him from saying more. He caught them in his unoccupied hand, and
holding them, and still clasping the border of her shawl, said
hurriedly:

'But I see thee, Rachael, setten by the bed. I ha' seen thee, aw
this night. In my troublous sleep I ha' known thee still to be
there. Evermore I will see thee there. I nevermore will see her
or think o' her, but thou shalt be beside her. I nevermore will
see or think o' anything that angers me, but thou, so much better
than me, shalt be by th' side on't. And so I will try t' look t'
th' time, and so I will try t' trust t' th' time, when thou and me
at last shall walk together far awa', beyond the deep gulf, in th'
country where thy little sister is.'

He kissed the border of her shawl again, and let her go. She bade
him good night in a broken voice, and went out into the street.

The wind blew from the quarter where the day would soon appear, and
still blew strongly. It had cleared the sky before it, and the
rain had spent itself or travelled elsewhere, and the stars were
bright. He stood bare-headed in the road, watching her quick
disappearance. As the shining stars were to the heavy candle in
the window, so was Rachael, in the rugged fancy of this man, to the
common experiences of his life.

CHAPTER XIV - THE GREAT MANUFACTURER

TIME went on in Coketown like its own machinery: so much material
wrought up, so much fuel consumed, so many powers worn out, so much
money made. But, less inexorable than iron, steal, and brass, it
brought its varying seasons even into that wilderness of smoke and
brick, and made the only stand that ever was made in the place
against its direful uniformity.

'Louisa is becoming,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'almost a young woman.'

Time, with his innumerable horse-power, worked away, not minding
what anybody said, and presently turned out young Thomas a foot
taller than when his father had last taken particular notice of
him.

'Thomas is becoming,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'almost a young man.'

Time passed Thomas on in the mill, while his father was thinking
about it, and there he stood in a long-tailed coat and a stiff
shirt-collar.

'Really,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'the period has arrived when Thomas
ought to go to Bounderby.'

Time, sticking to him, passed him on into Bounderby's Bank, made
him an inmate of Bounderby's house, necessitated the purchase of
his first razor, and exercised him diligently in his calculations
relative to number one.

The same great manufacturer, always with an immense variety of work
on hand, in every stage of development, passed Sissy onward in his
mill, and worked her up into a very pretty article indeed.

'I fear, Jupe,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'that your continuance at the
school any longer would be useless.'

'I am afraid it would, sir,' Sissy answered with a curtsey.

'I cannot disguise from you, Jupe,' said Mr. Gradgrind, knitting
his brow, 'that the result of your probation there has disappointed
me; has greatly disappointed me. You have not acquired, under Mr.
and Mrs. M'Choakumchild, anything like that amount of exact
knowledge which I looked for. You are extremely deficient in your
facts. Your acquaintance with figures is very limited. You are
altogether backward, and below the mark.'

'I am sorry, sir,' she returned; 'but I know it is quite true. Yet
I have tried hard, sir.'

'Yes,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'yes, I believe you have tried hard; I
have observed you, and I can find no fault in that respect.'

'Thank you, sir. I have thought sometimes;' Sissy very timid here;
'that perhaps I tried to learn too much, and that if I had asked to
be allowed to try a little less, I might have - '

'No, Jupe, no,' said Mr. Gradgrind, shaking his head in his
profoundest and most eminently practical way. 'No. The course you
pursued, you pursued according to the system - the system - and
there is no more to be said about it. I can only suppose that the
circumstances of your early life were too unfavourable to the
development of your reasoning powers, and that we began too late.
Still, as I have said already, I am disappointed.'

'I wish I could have made a better acknowledgment, sir, of your
kindness to a poor forlorn girl who had no claim upon you, and of
your protection of her.'

'Don't shed tears,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'Don't shed tears. I
don't complain of you. You are an affectionate, earnest, good
young woman - and - and we must make that do.'

'Thank you, sir, very much,' said Sissy, with a grateful curtsey.

'You are useful to Mrs. Gradgrind, and (in a generally pervading
way) you are serviceable in the family also; so I understand from
Miss Louisa, and, indeed, so I have observed myself. I therefore
hope,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'that you can make yourself happy in
those relations.'

'I should have nothing to wish, sir, if - '

'I understand you,' said Mr. Gradgrind; 'you still refer to your
father. I have heard from Miss Louisa that you still preserve that
bottle. Well! If your training in the science of arriving at
exact results had been more successful, you would have been wiser
on these points. I will say no more.'

He really liked Sissy too well to have a contempt for her;
otherwise he held her calculating powers in such very slight
estimation that he must have fallen upon that conclusion. Somehow
or other, he had become possessed by an idea that there was
something in this girl which could hardly be set forth in a tabular
form. Her capacity of definition might be easily stated at a very
low figure, her mathematical knowledge at nothing; yet he was not
sure that if he had been required, for example, to tick her off
into columns in a parliamentary return, he would have quite known
how to divide her.

In some stages of his manufacture of the human fabric, the
processes of Time are very rapid. Young Thomas and Sissy being
both at such a stage of their working up, these changes were
effected in a year or two; while Mr. Gradgrind himself seemed
stationary in his course, and underwent no alteration.

Except one, which was apart from his necessary progress through the
mill. Time hustled him into a little noisy and rather dirty
machinery, in a by-comer, and made him Member of Parliament for
Coketown: one of the respected members for ounce weights and
measures, one of the representatives of the multiplication table,
one of the deaf honourable gentlemen, dumb honourable gentlemen,
blind honourable gentlemen, lame honourable gentlemen, dead
honourable gentlemen, to every other consideration. Else wherefore
live we in a Christian land, eighteen hundred and odd years after
our Master?

All this while, Louisa had been passing on, so quiet and reserved,
and so much given to watching the bright ashes at twilight as they
fell into the grate, and became extinct, that from the period when
her father had said she was almost a young woman - which seemed but
yesterday - she had scarcely attracted his notice again, when he
found her quite a young woman.

'Quite a young woman,' said Mr. Gradgrind, musing. 'Dear me!'

Soon after this discovery, he became more thoughtful than usual for
several days, and seemed much engrossed by one subject. On a
certain night, when he was going out, and Louisa came to bid him
good-bye before his departure - as he was not to be home until late
and she would not see him again until the morning - he held her in
his arms, looking at her in his kindest manner, and said:

'My dear Louisa, you are a woman!'

She answered with the old, quick, searching look of the night when
she was found at the Circus; then cast down her eyes. 'Yes,
father.'

'My dear,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'I must speak with you alone and
seriously. Come to me in my room after breakfast to-morrow, will
you?'

'Yes, father.'

'Your hands are rather cold, Louisa. Are you not well?'

'Quite well, father.'

'And cheerful?'

She looked at him again, and smiled in her peculiar manner. 'I am
as cheerful, father, as I usually am, or usually have been.'

'That's well,' said Mr. Gradgrind. So, he kissed her and went
away; and Louisa returned to the serene apartment of the
haircutting character, and leaning her elbow on her hand, looked
again at the short-lived sparks that so soon subsided into ashes.

'Are you there, Loo?' said her brother, looking in at the door. He
was quite a young gentleman of pleasure now, and not quite a
prepossessing one.

'Dear Tom,' she answered, rising and embracing him, 'how long it is
since you have been to see me!'

'Why, I have been otherwise engaged, Loo, in the evenings; and in
the daytime old Bounderby has been keeping me at it rather. But I
touch him up with you when he comes it too strong, and so we
preserve an understanding. I say! Has father said anything
particular to you to-day or yesterday, Loo?'

'No, Tom. But he told me to-night that he wished to do so in the
morning.'

'Ah! That's what I mean,' said Tom. 'Do you know where he is to-
night?' - with a very deep expression.

'No.'

'Then I'll tell you. He's with old Bounderby. They are having a
regular confab together up at the Bank. Why at the Bank, do you
think? Well, I'll tell you again. To keep Mrs. Sparsit's ears as
far off as possible, I expect.'

With her hand upon her brother's shoulder, Louisa still stood
looking at the fire. Her brother glanced at her face with greater
interest than usual, and, encircling her waist with his arm, drew
her coaxingly to him.

'You are very fond of me, an't you, Loo?'

'Indeed I am, Tom, though you do let such long intervals go by
without coming to see me.'

'Well, sister of mine,' said Tom, 'when you say that, you are near
my thoughts. We might be so much oftener together - mightn't we?
Always together, almost - mightn't we? It would do me a great deal
of good if you were to make up your mind to I know what, Loo. It
would be a splendid thing for me. It would be uncommonly jolly!'

Her thoughtfulness baffled his cunning scrutiny. He could make
nothing of her face. He pressed her in his arm, and kissed her
cheek. She returned the kiss, but still looked at the fire.

'I say, Loo! I thought I'd come, and just hint to you what was
going on: though I supposed you'd most likely guess, even if you
didn't know. I can't stay, because I'm engaged to some fellows to-
night. You won't forget how fond you are of me?'

'No, dear Tom, I won't forget.'

'That's a capital girl,' said Tom. 'Good-bye, Loo.'

She gave him an affectionate good-night, and went out with him to
the door, whence the fires of Coketown could be seen, making the
distance lurid. She stood there, looking steadfastly towards them,
and listening to his departing steps. They retreated quickly, as
glad to get away from Stone Lodge; and she stood there yet, when he
was gone and all was quiet. It seemed as if, first in her own fire
within the house, and then in the fiery haze without, she tried to
discover what kind of woof Old Time, that greatest and longest-
established Spinner of all, would weave from the threads he had
already spun into a woman. But his factory is a secret place, his
work is noiseless, and his Hands are mutes.

CHAPTER XV - FATHER AND DAUGHTER

ALTHOUGH Mr. Gradgrind did not take after Blue Beard, his room was
quite a blue chamber in its abundance of blue books. Whatever they
could prove (which is usually anything you like), they proved
there, in an army constantly strengthening by the arrival of new
recruits. In that charmed apartment, the most complicated social
questions were cast up, got into exact totals, and finally settled
- if those concerned could only have been brought to know it. As
if an astronomical observatory should be made without any windows,
and the astronomer within should arrange the starry universe solely
by pen, ink, and paper, so Mr. Gradgrind, in his Observatory (and
there are many like it), had no need to cast an eye upon the
teeming myriads of human beings around him, but could settle all
their destinies on a slate, and wipe out all their tears with one
dirty little bit of sponge.

To this Observatory, then: a stern room, with a deadly statistical
clock in it, which measured every second with a beat like a rap
upon a coffin-lid; Louisa repaired on the appointed morning. A
window looked towards Coketown; and when she sat down near her
father's table, she saw the high chimneys and the long tracts of
smoke looming in the heavy distance gloomily.

'My dear Louisa,' said her father, 'I prepared you last night to
give me your serious attention in the conversation we are now going
to have together. You have been so well trained, and you do, I am
happy to say, so much justice to the education you have received,
that I have perfect confidence in your good sense. You are not
impulsive, you are not romantic, you are accustomed to view
everything from the strong dispassionate ground of reason and
calculation. From that ground alone, I know you will view and
consider what I am going to communicate.'

He waited, as if he would have been glad that she said something.
But she said never a word.

'Louisa, my dear, you are the subject of a proposal of marriage
that has been made to me.'

Again he waited, and again she answered not one word. This so far
surprised him, as to induce him gently to repeat, 'a proposal of
marriage, my dear.' To which she returned, without any visible
emotion whatever:

'I hear you, father. I am attending, I assure you.'

'Well!' said Mr. Gradgrind, breaking into a smile, after being for
the moment at a loss, 'you are even more dispassionate than I
expected, Louisa. Or, perhaps, you are not unprepared for the
announcement I have it in charge to make?'

'I cannot say that, father, until I hear it. Prepared or
unprepared, I wish to hear it all from you. I wish to hear you
state it to me, father.'

Strange to relate, Mr. Gradgrind was not so collected at this
moment as his daughter was. He took a paper-knife in his hand,
turned it over, laid it down, took it up again, and even then had
to look along the blade of it, considering how to go on.

'What you say, my dear Louisa, is perfectly reasonable. I have
undertaken then to let you know that - in short, that Mr. Bounderby
has informed me that he has long watched your progress with
particular interest and pleasure, and has long hoped that the time
might ultimately arrive when he should offer you his hand in
marriage. That time, to which he has so long, and certainly with
great constancy, looked forward, is now come. Mr. Bounderby has
made his proposal of marriage to me, and has entreated me to make
it known to you, and to express his hope that you will take it into
your favourable consideration.'

Silence between them. The deadly statistical clock very hollow.
The distant smoke very black and heavy.

'Father,' said Louisa, 'do you think I love Mr. Bounderby?'

Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomfited by this unexpected
question. 'Well, my child,' he returned, 'I - really - cannot take
upon myself to say.'

'Father,' pursued Louisa in exactly the same voice as before, 'do
you ask me to love Mr. Bounderby?'

'My dear Louisa, no. No. I ask nothing.'

'Father,' she still pursued, 'does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love
him?'

'Really, my dear,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'it is difficult to answer
your question - '

'Difficult to answer it, Yes or No, father?

'Certainly, my dear. Because;' here was something to demonstrate,
and it set him up again; 'because the reply depends so materially,
Louisa, on the sense in which we use the expression. Now, Mr.
Bounderby does not do you the injustice, and does not do himself
the injustice, of pretending to anything fanciful, fantastic, or (I

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